The following fiction was written by John Osler, a senior at Edina High School in Minnesota. John currently writes for Edina’s official student newspaper, Zephyrs, as well as The Southern View, a very unofficial satirical newspaper he created. He is an editor at Inklette, a graduate of the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio, and has been published in The Phosphene Journal and Moledro Magazine. As an introduction to this piece, he says:
Much of what I wrote here is verbatim dialogue from a phone call I got from a recruitment officer shortly after my eighteenth birthday. I’ve never known anyone who’s gone to war, never so much as gotten in a real fight myself, so there are definitely people better qualified to talk about war and violence than me. Probably that’s why this story is so short: because I didn’t have much to say. But that phone call, it made me realize that, just a few decades ago, having the wrong birthday meant getting shipped out to Vietnam. And there’s no reason why it can’t happen again. If that’s not true horror, I don’t know what is.
It Must’ve Felt Bitter
Rich Huellman’s eyesight was terrible, he needed glasses so thick they were almost bulletproof. His hearing was bad too, not bad enough to require hearing aids, but almost. His nose was always stuffed up from allergies, even in the dead of winter, so there went smell, and he had a habit of biting his tongue until it bled whenever he got nervous, turning tastebuds into scars over and over again.
His only above average sense was touch, and there’s rarely an advantage to feeling temperature, pressure, and pain more intensely than anyone else.
One day, when he was walking to a party with his girlfriend, he said, “You know, there’s no touching sensation for sweet.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Like, things taste sweet, obviously, and they smell sweet if they smell like they’ll taste sweet. The same goes for sight, and is there anything more cliched than saying that music sounds sweet?”
“Saying it sounds sour, maybe.”
“But there’s no concept for when something feels sweet.”
She shrugged and they kept on walking.
That night the two of them were making out behind the couch where their friends sat, playing poker under a dying lightbulb and pretending not to hear them.
Suddenly Rich went rigid, like a soldier or a corpse.
“I just realized… this is what sweet feels like, isn’t it?”
The phone ringing blended into the white noise around Rich, so he didn’t notice it until it had been going off for a few minutes.
“Yes, is this Rich Huellman?”
“Yes. And who is this?”
“Colonel Victor Millrose Bell of the U.S. Army.”
“W-what can I do for you, sir?”
“Have you ever considered enlisting, son?”
“I haven’t given much thought to it, sir. I mean, my eyesight alone is enough to disqualify me from the draft.”
“The army is becoming less about God-given talent and more about hard earned intellect every day. And I hear you’ve got plenty in that department.”
“Um, I have a religious objection–”
“What’s your religion?”
“Episca-Quaker! I’m a Quaker!”
“No need to be all jumpy like that. I’m just calling to explain what the army has to offer. How about you tell me what you want to do after high school? I garuntee, whatever career you choose, an army background will give you a nice boost.”
“Well, I’d like to be a writer.”
“Like a novelist?”
“Well, a lot of fine writers came out of the military, didn’t they?”
“I guess. Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Timy O’Brien.”
“But, um, they weren’t all that fond of it.”
“Really? None of them had anything nice to say about the military?”
“I don’t know, maybe they did. Sorry.”
“Never mind that. The point is, every day the war goes on, the draft gets less and less picky about little things like eyesight or student deferment. But if you start now, on your own terms, you could get basic training done sooner and spend more time doing good for your country and the world. Not to mention, you could get some money for your family, so somewhere down the line your parents could buy a boat or something.”
“I’ll think about it sir.”
“You do that, Mr. Huellman. I’ll call back in a month.”
“It’s a real shame they got Rich, of all people.”
“Why? I mean, it’s a shame when anyone goes down, but why Rich in particular? He was just a private, he wasn’t vital to the mission.”
“He always said he didn’t like pain.”
“No one likes pain.”
“But he really couldn’t stand it. And when you’re bleeding out like he did, alone like he was, it doesn’t matter how highly you rank or how vital you are. All that matters is how much it hurts.”
They watched the orange sun bleed across the foreign horizon.
“Not that it matters now, though.”
“How do you think it felt?”
“Bad, I guess. How else?”
“You can’t feel bitter.”